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Ask Alice – What is Batik?

Today, our homes are influenced by many styles from around the world. Ethnically inspired designs such as ikats and suzanis have been mixed into our home decor as well as our wardrobes for years. It has become the norm to incorporate globally influenced designs into our everyday life. In this article I would like to familiarize everyone with the art of Batik.

Pronounced ‘bah-teak,’ the name is derived from the word ‘ambatik’ which means a cloth with little dots. The suffix ‘tik’ describes a resist process for dyeing the fabric. Samples of dye resistance patterns on cloth can be traced back 1500 years to Egypt and the Middle East. Many believe it was brought to Asia by travelers from the Indian subcontinent. It has been said the art form reached its height on the island of Java in Indonesia.

Batik is the official fabric of Indonesia. Traditional Batik was used as a sarong for the Kebaya dress, which is a traditional blouse dress that originated in Indonesia. Infants are carried in Batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring luck to the child. Certain designs are reserved for brides and grooms as well as their families. Other designs are reserved for the Sultan, his family and their attendants. It is said a person’s rank could be determined by the pattern they wore. For special occasions traditional batik was decorated with gold leaf or gold dust, which is known as Prada, the Javanese word for gold.

So what exactly is resist dyeing? The term refers to a method of dyeing textiles using wax to prevent the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern. There are various methods used to apply liquid wax, include pouring the liquid wax, painting the wax with a brush and applying the wax to a pre-carved wooden or metal wire block and stamping the fabric. The wax is applied to the areas of the design where the artisan does not want the dye to take. This prevents or resists the dye from penetrating the fabric, leaving the waxed area the original color of the cloth which is usually white or cream.

After the initial wax has been applied, the fabric is ready for the dye bath. The final hue depends on how long the cloth is dipped or soaked in the dye bath. The longer it is immersed in the dye bath, the darker the color. Once the desired hue is achieved, the fabric is put into a cold bath to harden the wax. When the area is dry, the wax is then scrapped away with a small knife. The number of colors in the design represents how many times it has been soaked and how many times the wax has been applied and removed. The level of craftsmanship is evident when the pattern is equally visible on both sides of the cloth, which indicates that the wax has been applied to both sides. Traditionally there are two categories of batik design: geometric and flora/fauna. Today, batik designs are emulated as a woven or as a printed fabric to bring this unique look to everyone.

It is always a thrill for me to research and answer your questions because I not only have the pleasure of explaining the world of textiles but I also have the opportunity to learn along with you all. So please…keep the questions coming.


One Comments

  1. Sabir says:

    I am thrilled with the new siteleutos you are offering. I am just starting with applique and this will be a wonderful help to me until I am able to start cutting out my own shapes and get familiar with the prcess of fusing shapes onto fabric. The new Block of the month idea is also interesting to me as well.